Joseph Meili, 22, claims he didn't know how old the girl was
On Friday, a judge spared a 22-year-old Missouri man from a four-month prison stint, sentencing him instead to five years of supervised probation for molesting an 11-year-old girl he met through a dating app.
PEOPLE confirms that Joseph Meili, 22, appeared in Greene County Court Friday, where he pleaded guilty to a single count of third-degree child molestation.
In exchange for Meili’s admission of guilt to the 2017 crime, the original charges of child kidnapping, statutory sodomy and statutory rape were dismissed by prosecutors.
Prosecutors’ deal with Meili was agreed upon March.
Meili, of Russellville, will be required to register as a sex offender.
According to Meili’s attorney, Scott Pierson, Judge Calvin Holden opted to sentence Meili to probation instead of the state-recommended prison term of 120 days.
In Missouri, third-degree child molestation is punishable by up to 3 to 10 years behind bars.
“Prosecutors state that the victim and the victim’s family were not opposed to probation here,” Pierson tells PEOPLE. “They did not want the book thrown at him.”
According to the Springfield News-Leader, Meili met the victim through MeetMe, a dating app. The girl was using her mother’s phone when she started exchanging messages with Meili, eventually provided him with her home address.
The paper reports that Meili went to the girl’s house in July 2017, picked her up, and drove her to an apartment in Springfield.
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The girl was reported missing, and authorities began searching for her in nearby woods.
The victim later returned home, revealing she’d fallen asleep while at the apartment, waking up feeling as though she had been violated.
According to the paper, semen was discovered on the girl’s underwear.
At the time of his arrest, Meili told police he believed the victim was 18, based on the age that was listed on her MeetMe profile.
Pierson said the state had “no evidence” to suggest that his client ever kidnapped the victim. He also says Meili “had no idea how young she was.”